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Reds offseason preview: Biggest needs, potential trade targets and more

Cincinnati’s young stars broke onto the scene in a big way in 2023. How will the Reds make the jump from rebuilding to contending?

Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on September 26, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Free agents are officially on the market, qualifying offers have been extended (and rejected), contract options exercised and/or declined and 40-man rosters whittled down. Welcome to the MLB offseason.

For the Cincinnati Reds, this winter represents a major inflection point. One of the league’s best farm systems broke into the Majors in a big way this past summer, only to fall out of contention down the stretch due to some glaring weaknesses (namely: the entire starting rotation). Cincy has a young core of talent that could have them competing for years to come, and as many trade chips as anyone. But will a braintrust that’s proven unwilling to get aggressive in the past do so now? How deep into the free-agent pool will this team be able to wade? Let’s break down the Reds’ offseason.

Reds offseason preview

Season in review

When the season began, it seemed like just another rebuilding year in Cincinnati. The team hardly made any moves over the offseason, content to keep its powder dry and see which of its many young players might pop with extended playing time. But a funny thing happened along the way: A whole lot of those young players (one in particular) popped very, very quickly, and a remarkable 20-4 stretch from June into July had the Reds in first place in the NL Central entering the All-Star break.

Alas, things fell apart a bit from there, largely due to a starting rotation that was thin to begin with and dreadful after injuries started to set in. Cincy went just 32-39 in the second half, and seven losses in their final 10 games snuffed any hope of a Wild Card bid.

Pending free agents

The Reds do have a fair number of players hitting the market, but most of them didn’t figure to play a significant role in 2024 and beyond. Wil Myers, last year’s lone major acquisition, alternated between injured and ineffective in his one year in Cincy. Fellow outfielders Harrison Bader and Hunter Renfroe both struggled mightily after being acquired midseason. Utility man Nick Senzel was non-tendered, a victim of just how much position-player depth this team has coming through the pipeline. The two names of note are franchise icon Joey Votto, who was let go after more than two decades in the Reds organization, and Buck Farmer, one of the best relievers in a middling bullpen last year.

Biggest needs

The Reds have arguably the clearest needs of any contending (or contender-adjacent) team in the league: They need pitching, and they need it badly. The cupboard is hardly bare: It seemed like the long-awaited Hunter Greene breakout was finally upon us before he went down with a hip injury, Nick Lodolo still has tons of potential, Graham Ashcraft posted a 2.81 ERA over 10 second-half starts and lefty Andrew Abbott is coming off a hugely promising rookie season. Still, there’s a lot of youth, projection and injury risk involved in that list, and and as we saw in 2023, there’s very little depth behind them. Cincy has talent all over the rest of the diamond — a lefty corner bat to replace Votto’s part-time role is just about the only real need on that side of the ball — but it won’t matter unless they bolster both the rotation and bullpen.

Best free-agent fits

This is a down free-agent class overall, but the good news for the Reds is that it’s a bit deeper in pitching than hitting. Aaron Nola is already off the board, and it’s hard to imagine small-market Cincinnati putting themselves in play for other top names like Blake Snell or Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But maybe they make a run at Sonny Gray, who excelled in Cincy in 2019 and 2020 and at age 34 might come a little cheaper? There are plenty of other second-tier options to consider as well, from bounce-back candidate Lucas Giolito to former Padres righties Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo to veteran Kenta Maeda.

As for the offense, again, Cincy is pretty well positioned here given just how many promising young players — and especially young infielders — they have both already in the Majors and waiting in the high Minors. They are a pretty right-handed lineup, however, and they could use another corner outfield/DH option, particularly one that mashes righty pitching. Joc Pederson would seem to fit that bill, or the team could make a run at a true center fielder like Kevin Kiermaier or Korean import Jung Hoo Lee, slide TJ Friedl to left and toggle between Jake Fraley and Will Benson in right.

Potential trades

Of course, while Cincy will likely never be a heavy hitter in free agency, they could always dip into that pool of young talent in order to swing a trade. Between Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Noelvi Marte, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Minor Leaguers Edwin Arroyo and Cam Collier, the Reds have more infielders than they know what to do with. Any one of them other than De La Cruz and McLain figure to be trade bait, or they could opt to ship out veteran Jonathan India and fully hand things over to the youth movement.

Some intriguing starters figure to be available this winter: While it’s hard to imagine the Brewers dealing Corbin Burnes within the division, the Reds could put an awfully intriguing package together for the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow, the White Sox’ Dylan Cease or the Pirates’ Mitch Keller (who, with two years of team control remaining, likely doesn’t line up with Pittsburgh’s timeline).